I’ve Looked Down That Road Too

So I work as a reporter at The Sanford Herald in Sanford, N.C., and my world was shaken yesterday.

We were told there was a police-involved shooting in downtown Sanford, a few hundred yards from our office. We were waiting for more information from police. Then the news came in. I’ll copy our report below:

A 28-year-old male from Sanford died Thursday afternoon of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, according to Sanford police.

The incident occurred around 1 p.m. in front of an abandoned business at the corner of Charlotte Avenue and First Street. Police cars blocked off a section of Charlotte Avenue while the man stood outside of the abandoned business. He was armed with a 9mm handgun and shot himself after communicating with police detectives and other civilians for about 90 minutes.

During the 90 minutes, nearby businesses closed down and people eating at La Dolce Vita Pizzeria, just yards away from the incident, were forced to stay inside the restaurant.

After the incident, EMS administered immediate medical assistance and he was transported to the emergency room at Central Carolina Hospital. He was pronounced dead by the medical examiner at the hospital.
The name of the man has not been released yet. Stay with The Herald for more.

I was shaken. Why? I’ve looked down that road before, that road of taking your own life, and it’s a dark one.

I didn’t get too far down that road, but I’ve heard stories of others that didn’t, like this young man. As I saw tributes on my Facebook feed to this guy yesterday, I saw that he was well-loved by people of all races, ages and political perspectives. People came together to remember him. I won’t print his name here out of respect for the fact I never met him, never knew him and had never even heard of him before yesterday.

But I want to believe that I’ve felt part of the pain that he felt. Obviously, something happened in his life or his mind that drove him to this drastic decision, and he felt he couldn’t go on.

I understand the impulse. I’ve struggled with enough in my life to make me think about that path — depression, anxiety, bullying, religious doubt, fear of man, despair over mistakes.

In this time, I struggle to think of what I could say to comfort those who might be hurting or mourning. I’ve never been intimately acquainted with someone who has taken their own life. I’ve known people — a former high school classmate, a distant relative, this man yesterday — that have done so. I’ve known people that have thought about it. Words just aren’t enough in this situation.

What I will recommend, and what I hope to do more of, is this: don’t be afraid to ask, “Are you OK?”

I think we’re nervous to get too invested in others’ lives for several reasons. First, we can be selfish people, and getting too much in others’ lives takes away time and attention to ourselves. Second, we don’t want to pry or make things awkward. And third, sometimes we just don’t know how to.

I’ll suggest it this way: Think about how often you start a conversation with someone and you ask, “How are you?” or in the case of Joey Tribbiani, “How you doin’?” It’s a common conversation starter. How often do you or the person you’re talking to say “fine” or “good”?

I recommend that we start taking the time to dig deeper into that. Obviously not with people you’ve just met or in professional settings, but with friends or relatives, be willing to ask, “How are you good?” or “How are you fine?” If they seem a little unsure, don’t be afraid to ask, “Are you OK? Is there anything I can help you with? Do you need to talk about something?”

The worst that can happen to you is that they say “no” and it’s a little awkward for a while. The best that can happen is that 1) you have a meaningful, productive conversation with another human being (talks that seem few and far between these days) and 2) you might bring a little hope and love into another person’s life.

Yeah, love. There’s not enough of that right now. And I’m not blaming the person’s family or friends or coworkers or whoever for not loving him enough. That’s not the point. I’m asking you who know people to show that love to others. Point them down the path of love.

I want to say one last thing, to send a message to my brother who passed on:

Yes, I know we never met, and you’ve probably never even heard my name. But you’re my brother because we’ve had similar struggles, I imagine. I love you, man. I hope and pray you’re in the arms of a Savior who loves you. I hope your life will spur others on to love. I hope your life will spur me on to love.

— Zach

Don’t Wipe Your Eyes. Tears Remind You You’re Alive.

Yesterday, I wrote about the idea that we hurt ourselves by our actions, our sinful behaviors that bring us down and distract us from our relationship with Jesus. Today, I want to cover a different kind of self-hurt. Self-harm.

I’ve found myself more and more writing and talking about things that we don’t talk about in the Christian community, things we like to avoid. I know that very few people read this, but I hope to at least start a little bit of conversation. This is one I most definitely want to start conversation about.

I’ve known people that have cut themselves. I’ve known people that have turned to self-harm as some way to find relief from the internal turmoil. I’ve heard stories of people who have taken whole bottles of pills hoping to get out of whatever life they’re living.

The easy reaction is to feel sorry for the person, perhaps pray for them, and then move on. It’s uncomfortable to think about and talk about. But we should talk about it more. We should discuss it more. And I want to start that now by saying I’ve thought about it.

I’ve never cut myself or done any type of typical self-harm that is often linked to depression or anxiety. But I’ve thought about it. I’ve stood in the shower with a razor in my hand and briefly considered finding out what it felt like. I’ve held a knife in my hand in my kitchen late at night, distressed by a sin I committed, hoping to find some sort of atonement in dragging the knife across my wrist. I’ve thought about intentionally driving my car off a bridge, thinking that maybe somebody might finally give me the time of day. If I survived.

Yes, I was a Christian while thinking all those thoughts.

According to KidsData.org, more than 30,000 children were hospitalized in 2012 due to self-inflicted injury. In 2013, 41,149 suicides were reported, making suicides the 10th leading cause of death for Americans, according to the CDC. A study done by the Center for Suicide Research at Oxford University in 2011 found that 1 in 12 young people “engage in self-harm such as cutting, burning or taking life-threatening risks and around 10 percent of these continue to deliberately harm themselves into young adulthood.”

These are people who have gone further than I. I only thought about it. I never actually did anything. But these kids did. Unfortunately, they saw self-harm as the way to deal with the emotions they were feeling, the stress and anxiety they were dealing with.

Why? For some, there’s a promise of relief in the pain, a relief for emotions that are too heavy to bear alone. For others, like what I was feeling, there’s a punishment aspect to it where there’s an atonement being done. I did something bad, I get punished. For others, it’s a silent cry for help that often never gets heard.

Teens resort to this when things get too hard. And often that happens because there is no one who is truly invested in loving them and caring for them. It’s so hard to bear some of those emotions by yourself that you hope that, by doing something drastic like self-harm, you can lose some of that weight.

So with this in mind, my final words.

To those who don’t self-harm: Please, be aware, and love.

Teenagers often feel like outcasts in today’s society, particularly within the Christian context. Those who deal with self-harm feel that even more. There’s no telling where some of their emotions are taking them. Please take the time. Please love like Jesus loved. Take off the kid gloves and get down and dirty.

To those who do: Please, don’t.

You don’t deserve punishment for any wrong you’ve done. Jesus took that punishment on the cross. Talk about the things that are weighing you down. Be honest with them. Share them with a friend, a family member.

I understand the desire, the weight of emotion you feel when you do that. You feel like no one cares, like no one really loves you for you. Look for them. And if you truly find no one, e-mail me. I would love to talk with you. There are organizations like To Write Love on Her Arms and Heart Support who want to help you.

If you’re a Christian and you self-harm, that doesn’t deny you being a Christian. It makes you human. Just realize that Jesus took the punishment for you on the cross, so you don’t need to harm yourself. To steal from TWLOHA, hope is real. Help is real. Your story is important. And He cares about your story.

I’ve found hope in knowing that the God of the universe sent His Son Jesus to earth to live a perfect life, die a perfect death and rise again so that I could have the opportunity to have a relationship with Him, to be forgiven of my sins, to experience the love and grace of the Gospel.

You have the opportunity to experience the same thing. Jesus is with you and wants to love you unlike any other love you’ve ever experienced. Your hope is not ultimately in that other people struggle with this, it’s not in the fact that I’ve struggled with the thoughts.

Your hope is in Jesus. So it’s alright to cry. He did.

 It’s alright to cry
Even my dad does sometimes
So don’t wipe your eyes
Tears remind you you’re alive
It’s alright to die
Cause death’s the only thing you haven’t tried
But just for tonight
Hold on*

* “Even My Dad Does Sometimes” by Ed Sheeran